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A home of your very own: Despite the higher costs, renters are ditching their roommates to live solo

By Hannah Seligson,

In February, Mandy Stahl, 29, moved out of her room in a newly renovated row house in Mt. Pleasant that had three outdoor decks and ample space. The living arrangement was about as good as it gets with roommates. Stahl, who oversees digital strategy for the American Association of Executives, lived with three friends — all of whom she knew before moving in (no randoms from Craigslist) — and her portion of the rent was $840, including utilities. Why did she give all that up to pay hundreds more in rent?

Simple. Stahl wanted to live alone, even though she’ll be ponying up $1,400 a month for a studio in Cleveland Park. “I’ve had roommates since 2005. That’s over six years. I’m ready just to deal with my own messes,” Stahl says.

As anyone who has made the leap from having roommates to living alone can tell you, not having to clean up after other people is a benefit that never gets old. Then there’s getting your own bathroom, a perk Stahl did not have in Mt. Pleasant.

Add that to the list, along with no longer being subjected to your roommate’s coffee-stained Ikea futon, endless marathons of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” or the smell of old Thai food containers that never seem to get thrown out.

These perks are not lost on residents of the District. According to 2010 census data, the District has the highest rate in the country of people living alone: 48 percent of households consist of just one person. (Manhattan, the land of the eternally single, clocks in at 47 percent.)

The demand for single living is having an effect on the rental market. In the District, studio rental prices rose more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with an increase of 1 percent for two-bedrooms, according to real estate website HotPads.

In February, the average rent for a studio in the District was $1,682 (it was $1,899 for a one-bedroom). But prices vary dramatically by neighborhood. Expect to pay $2,037 for a studio in upscale Dupont Circle. If you’re willing to move a bit north to, say, Mt. Pleasant, you’ll pay half that — studios there go for, on average, $1,025. And in the Catholic University/Brookland area, studio rental prices dip to $985 on average.

Even if you steer clear of the priciest areas (Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Logan Circle, Mt. Vernon Square, to name a few), living solo will still mean taking on a new bundle of expenses. In a city where the average household pays $52 a month for electricity and more than $200 a month for natural gas, according to the White Fence Index, which measures utility prices, just keeping your lights on and your apartment warm can become a huge financial drain.

Having utilities included in her rent helped soften the blow for Stahl. She also made some lifestyle adjustments.

“I won’t have a DVR in my new place. And I put myself on a break from buying new clothes because I knew this move was going to be a financial hit,” she says.

To afford his real estate fantasy of living alone, Will Gordon, 29, a graphic designer, is pinching pennies. At the end of February, Gordon moved to Columbia Heights, where he’s paying $1,200 a month for a one-bedroom, a steep increase from the $500 he was paying to live with roommates in Northeast.

“It’s definitely a struggle financially to live on my own,” Gordon says. So he’s made some cutbacks: only one drink when he hits the town, and no dinners out.

Gordon doesn’t have cable, but he says that doesn’t feel like such a sacrifice: Even though he paid for cable at his old apartment, he never watched TV.

“Netflix gives me all the entertainment I need,” he says. “When you’re in a group house, you don’t have a say.”

And then there are the benefits of living alone that are hard to put a price tag on.

Charlotte Devilliers, 25, the manager of Cheesetique, a specialty cheese bar in Del Ray, knew she had to move out of her townhouse in Burke the night her roommate came home drunk and interrupted her studying. Devilliers didn’t bat at eye at upping her monthly rent from $750 to $1,200 to live alone in Alexandria.

“For peace and quiet, it’s totally worth it,” she says.

PHOTO CREDIT: JASON HORNICK; JASON HORNICK

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